THERE is a nasty undercurrent to any tribal gathering involving Celtic and Rangers. It is more talked about now, but was more odious in the last century. Acting Ibrox manager Kenny McDowall knows that only too well. The 51-year-old grew up a Rangers fanatic. Going to watch his team in derbies, though, was declared off limits by his father Andy.
“My dad wouldn’t let me go because of a lot of what went on around the games,” said McDowall.
“I was from Drumchapel and didn’t really venture out of there much at a young age unless it was to play with the boys club.
“I only went to a couple. You always wanted your team to win first and foremost, no matter how they played, you wanted to beat Celtic.”
McDowall’s own football career took precedence by the time he reached the age when he could make his own decisions about his leisure pursuits. And, when the football didn’t intervene, pursuing a leisure approach to watching the fixture tended to take over. “I preferred to watch it in the house in my own comfort because you get a better view to it,” added McDowall, who seemed more relaxed ahead of leading his team into the League Cup semi-final at Hampden this afternoon than at any previous stage of his four-week stint as replacement for Ally McCoist.
McDowall, serving his own notice period after McCoist was put on gardening leave, said: “I quite liked having a few mates round and watching on the TV.”
There was one occasion he did deviate from his preferred mode of viewing. That came in early 1980s when he was at Partick Thistle. “Big Roddie Hutchison and Paul McKenzie – who was a Celtic supporter and, I think, started at Celtic Boys Club – and I left Firhill on a midweek night to go and watch a game Rangers won 2-1. Big Paul was to meet us back at the motor and we got back there. We sat and waited and waited. Eventually, he arrived and the head was well down when we were going for a pint. He had to endure quite a battering from us for the next hour after that game.”
Rarely, did McDowall’s mentor Walter Smith take batterings in any derbies. His gameplan for these fixtures centred around caution and counter-attacking. McDowall does not believe he can just copy the Smith playbook, although he does concede a few pointers might be in order from the derby “master”.
“The fact it’s a semi-final of a cup makes it slightly different, I think, because, at the end, if I want to get to a cup final I’m going to need to try to score a goal to try to win the game. Whether we go toe-to-toe or, later on, we’re going to want to score a goal.
“I speak to Walter every other day, he is a friend. So I will speak to him, I won’t ask him to specifically do my team for me. But I will ask for bits of advice on certain things if I feel I need that because I don’t think anyone should be ashamed to speak to someone of Walter Smith’s calibre – especially with the experience he’s got.
“I think there’s a bit of me that’s got to come out, though. I mean, how can I model myself on Walter Smith? I’ve only been put in charge for five weeks. I’ve not turned into Mourinho all of a sudden. I will say how I feel when that time comes. But, you know what, and it’s a thing Walter did say – motivation is an incredible thing. As coaches and managers, we can only motivate so much. Self-motivation must come from players and they need to take it upon themselves to go out and win a game and get themselves to a League Cup final.”